Mission of Burma – Unsound

January 01, 1970





Mission of Burma is not a reunion band anymore, if it ever
was.  You could read OnOffOn as a tentative reclamation of the noise melodists’ art. You
could listen to The Obliterati and The Sound the Speed the Light as
increasingly confident, even triumphant expansions on the band’s earliest
principles. But Unsound, coming a
decade into Burma’s
second run, sounds like the kind of record an adventurous band that’s always been together might make, like
Sonic Youth in the early 1990s say. It’s grounded in a distinct,
historically-rooted aesthetic, but not tied down to it. Listening to Unsound gives you a glimpse of a band
that’s not confined by its legacy.   


There is, naturally, a fair amount of continuity. Guitarist
Roger Miller continues to write gnarly, internally convoluted anthems that fit
together in intricate, polyhedric shapes. “Dust Devils,” is a cubist’s
interpretation of a rock anthem, its shape and meaning clearing only after a
fair amount of squinting at squares and triangles. Clint Conley, the bass
player and author of the band’s most melodic songs (“Revolver,” “Academy Fight
Song”), threads slender bits of melody through noise-y, pick-dragging onslaughts
of cacophony. His “Semi-Pseudo-Sort-of-Plan” floats dreamy vocal epiphanies
over a roiling churning kettle of rock. And drummer, Peter Prescott, is still
the band’s strongest connection to hardcore, his songs bashed and shouted and
pummeled into uncompromising being.  


Still there’s no denying that these songs are odder and more
complicated than any of Burma’s
output to date, or that they have been recorded with an unusual ferocity and
glee. “This is Hi-Fi” is both blistering and complicated, its many parts
unfolding like origami figures, then bursting into volume-induced flame.  “Add in Unison”, later, starts in stabbing,
stuttering punk staccato, wanders into odd-time-signatured byways, a late
Fugazi-ish blend of attack and experiment. “7’s” (with its opening shimmer of
“Trem Two” guitars) is a classic Conley melodic burner, its 45-worthy pop
melody spinning over chasms and abysses of overdriven chaos. Prescott’s late album head-banger “What They
Tell Me,” is all sharp edges and percussive explosions, and if Bob Weston wants
to take a trumpet solo mid-cut, why the hell not?  Everything is pushed harder, faster and into
more extreme corners on Unsound, and,
remarkably, the band seems to get tighter and more impactful as things become
more difficult.


Even at the beginning of Burma phase two, it was clear that
no one in the band was interested in becoming an oldies revue. Yet, I do think
it took time to clear the past out of the band’s system (OnOffOn, for instance, had a couple of songs written in pre-break-up),
consolidate its current iteration and then go on from there.  Unsound sounds like the place where we finally catch up with the backstory and start
moving ahead, and I can’t wait to hear what happens next.


Devil” “Sectionals in Mourning” “7’s” JENNIFER KELLY

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